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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Nine things you must do before starting your own training business


Heather Townsend shares her top tips for those preparing to take the plunge into freelance training.

One of the well-trodden paths for a recently made redundant trainer is to go freelance, and set up a training or coaching business. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being your own boss and being able to focus on exactly what you want from your work life. However, turning freelance is not the easy option. It’s a sad fact of life that two out of three new businesses fail in their first year.

I was talking with a coach today that has been running his own business for over two years and is still struggling to make ends meet. To make matters worse if your training or freelance career doesn’t work out, and you choose to go back to corporate life you risk being deemed as ‘unemployable’. So, what do you need to do to set up your own training business, before you leave your current employment? Here are ten things you must do to increase your chances of success with your own training business.

1. Write your business goals down

Only about 3% of adults have clear, written goals. These people accomplish five to ten times as much as people of equal ability and standing, but who, have never taken the time to write out exactly what they want to achieve.

2.    Decide on your business model

One of the first decisions (and most important decisions) you will have to make is ‘where am I going to get my revenue from?’ If you don’t feel comfortable with selling then you will need to focus on chasing down associate opportunities. The financial rewards are generally higher if you find your own work – but you can make a very comfortable living as an associate. If you feel comfortable with business development, then focus on growing your own business and brand.

As a freelance you need to make sure that you are not overly dependent on one client or associate provider. As you probably know well, companies can always stop a program on the slightest hint of a potential budget reforecast. Decide on the proportion of associate vs own work that you will target, and stick to this model.

3. Decide on your niche

Before we go any further, it’s time to bring reality back into the equation. Everyone knows a trainer or knows someone that knows a trainer. Sorry to be brutal but soft skill trainers are two-a- penny. It appears to me that anyone that has attended a life coaching course and set themselves up as a life coach, seems to feel equipped to be able to facilitate and run group workshops. My ex-HR director told me that I would do very well as a freelance trainer as there was ‘an awful lot of dross out there’. To differentiate yourself (and command higher rates), the current marketing wisdom is that you should choose a specialisation and stick to this.

4. Gain the commitment and support of family and friends

Starting your own business is all-consuming. As a new business owner, your working week is now 7 days. Inevitably your quality time with the family, friends and loved ones is going to reduce in the short term – how can you prepare people for this? It is a sad statistic that many new business owners’ marriages don’t survive the first couple of years of trading. Knowing that you have your family and friends commitment and support to your new venture is invaluable and a great source of free advertising!

5. Strengthen your network

People prefer to buy from people that they trust or have been recommended to them by someone that they trust. I would put a fairly large wager on the fact that your network is going to get you your first gigs – whether as an associate or independent trainer. From personal experience, it is possible to pick up some associate opportunities before you leave your current employers. To warm up your network properly plan to complete at least 3+ networking meetings every week.

As well as being your most effective source of work, referrals, customers and clients, your network will take the place of your current work mates and colleagues. The reality is that bouncing ideas off your team mates stops when you pick up your P45. Do you have enough people in your current network willing and able to give you all the advice and assistance that you may need in the early days of working for yourself?

6. Answer the question – ‘why my product or service is different?’

Unless you are one of the very few people who manage to come up with a completely new product or service, you need to be able to identify what makes you different from your competition, and why people should buy from you instead. At any networking event or meeting, the question may or may not be verbalised, but people will always be thinking why I should hire you.

7. Find a coach

In the early days of setting up a business, it can often be difficult to have the space and time to focus on what really matters. From personal experience, I can tell you that until you are established business owner you are on a very steep learning curve and one hell of a roller coaster ride. A good coach will help you see the wood for the trees, provide a time and space for you to think, expand your list of options and choices, and provide invaluable support and encouragement.

8. Identify and acquire the skills you will need as your own boss

Unless you can afford the full complement of professional advisors, you will need to acquire new skills as a new business owner. Like me, in your first few months of trading, you may find yourself amongst others becoming the book keeper, web designer, marketing expert, finance director and new business director for your business. Until you have a team of people working for you, delegating tasks and functions to professional advisors costs money you often can’t afford to spend. However, you may be able to acquire these skills for free or at highly reduced rate. Do you have an opportunity to acquire these skills with your current job or hobbies and interests? Who offers funded places for courses aimed at new business owners?

9. Believe in yourself

And finally, If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one else will - and you wouldn’t have the confidence to get started on what could be the best experience of your life.

Read the other features in Heather's series:

Heather Townsend is the driving force behind The Efficiency CoachTM. She is a highly experienced corporate, career and executive coach with over 10 years experience in many diverse businesses including Tesco, Procter & Gamble, BDO Stoy Hayward LLP. Heather blogs at and can be contacted by email at [email protected]

One Response

  1. Deciding on your niche market
    Deciding on your niche market is foremost the most important thing before starting a training business. Doing so can help you understand your ideal customer better and therefore make you more successful in delivering meaningful value as well as the appropriate learning experience. Moreover, defining a niche is essential in order to stand out in a crowded training market. Check out this very useful blog about how a training company can differentiate itself in a crowded market:

    Melody Abboud
    Operations Executive

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Heather Townsend


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